By Stephen B. Bagley
Bittersweet is that moment when you slap down on an annoying fly on the picnic table and gleefully crush it on your palm and then you realize its guts are on your hand and it probably just finished chowing down on a poop platter thoughtfully provided by the 127 feral cats who haunt the park. So you wipe your hand on your napkin, wishing you had hand sanitizer even though you watched an exposé on Channel 4 showing how sanitizer could easily ignite and you shouldn’t use it near a fireplace or an open flame so it might not be safe since you’re sitting four feet away from the barbeque where they are sacrificing wieners to the flames.
You look back at the table and realize there’s that green-reddish smear from when you crushed Mr. Fly and you don’t want to see that so you move your plate to cover the remains, but the thought of it being there bothers you, and for a moment you think about that Poe story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” where the murderer has hidden his victim under the floorboards of his house, but then he thinks he hears “the beating of his hideous heart!”
Hardly a nice thing to remember on a nice day like this with the sun shining and your friends laughing beside you, and you blame Mr. Simmons who told that story to your seventh grade English class and gave you nightmares because he did it so convincingly and kept looking at the students with such a mad look that it’s no surprise that he was arrested for public nudity at a zoo and went to prison for five years and the poor flamingoes never recovered and went around looking shell-shocked and losing pink feathers everywhere.
You look back at your plate, which now you can’t do without thinking of the corpse it’s concealing, and pick up your fork to have some of that potato salad that Kathy brought and your mind flashes back to that report Channel 4 did about food-born pathogens and how they lurk in every picnic food which should never sit out for more than a few minutes, otherwise they become something so lethal that they could wipe out entire civilizations, which might be what happened to the people who built Stonehenge. You can imagine them gathering for a rock-raising picnic, and a few hours later, they’re all gasping their last breath like that fly you crushed. But the fly’s death was so fast it probably didn’t have time for a last breath; one moment it’s on the table looking at the feast spread before it, thinking happy thoughts, and then it’s not thinking anything. This makes you feel better because, after all, you gave it a quick, happy death, which is not such a terrible thing, and many people might want such a parting from this life, although how they’d find a giant picnic table is anyone’s guess.
Still, you put the fork back down and pick up your ham sandwich—WITH THE FLY CRUSHING HAND! A hand that’s probably contaminated with the bacteria and viruses that the fly picked up when it dined on the poop of a cat which had escaped from a secret lab conducting research into bio-weapons and this...this innocent picnic is how the zombie apocalypse starts!
With mounting panic, you realize you’re sure thinking about poop at lot at this picnic and now you’re afraid you will always associate picnic with poop and you frantically start thinking of better things that happen at picnics: laughing, games of Frisbee® and softball, splashing in pools, playing games of tag with the grand-children, and once at a college picnic years ago a curvy blonde fellow journalist let you find her in the woods for a bit of friendly necking—wait, that’s not an appropriate thought for now.
You carefully take a bite of the sandwich avoiding the side that touched your palm, and it’s good. Ham, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, mustard, thick wheat bread.... Of course, if you were serious about your low carb diet, you wouldn’t be eating the bread at all. According to the carb commandos, grains are poison, POISON, and maybe that’s what actually wiped out the Stonehenge builders. Between raising multi-ton rocks, they were happily eating bread, French fries, ice cream, white rice, tacos, peach cobbler, potato salad.... Happy, heavy people who one day were felled by heart attacks, diabetes, and dreaded lard-bottom disease. All in all, there are worse ways to go if one has to go.
Which makes you think of an article you read recently in a science magazine about those people who think they don’t have to go and plan to upload their brains into a supercomputer so they can live forever, ignoring the fact that the original person would go ahead and age and die, leaving behind some monstrous thing that only faintly resembled a human, like a Congressman.
By now, everyone else is finished or finishing their plate of food and either getting seconds or thirds or deciding they’d better stop, and you have barely touched your food, which might make them think you’re on your second or third place when you’ve barely eaten enough to keep a fly alive...that fly again. Sigh. Now you’re regretting you killed the thing. Maybe you should have shooed it away, thus not incurring a Karmic debt. But you don’t believe in reincarnation anyway since you’re Baptist, and if it were true, then you’d only be releasing the soul trapped in the fly to move up into a better body, like maybe a boil weevil or a rodent. Unless it had been a bad fly, and then it would drop down in worth and become a telemarketer.
They’re cutting the watermelon now. You like watermelon and can easily make yourself sick eating too much given half a chance, but watermelon is basically sugar water held together by a fibrous matrix and loaded with carbs. You mentally add watermelon to the diet of the Stonehenge builders while taking a plate—a small plate—of the melon, vowing to yourself that you will walk several miles and burn off that sugar before it has time to damage your body even though you insisted the picnic was close to a parking lot because you didn’t want to walk.
The watermelon has seeds—the best ones do, in your opinion—and one of the black seeds moves! It’s another FLY! But you wave it off and examine the melon flesh closely, like you could see germs, and take your life into your teeth and hungrily devour the fruit.
It’s the end of the picnic, and it would hardly look right for you keep eating, so you regretfully drop your plate and cup in the trash, and stop at Delicias Mexican Restaurant on the way home for chips, dip, and a platter of enchiladas.
(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without explicit permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)